Around midnight at the end of a busy day, 16-year-old Chase Morris felt a bit dizzy.
So even though friends were still hanging out and playing ping pong outside, Chase headed inside to sleep.
A few minutes later, a friend found Chase on the ground and unresponsive.
While his mother called an ambulance, Chase’s 21-year-old brother Taylor and a friend performed CPR. Another brother, 14-year-old Reagan, called their dad Michael, who was remarried and living 70 miles away.
The hospital in their hometown of Grove, Oklahoma, was less than a mile away. Yet nearly five minutes later, help hadn’t arrived. While it’s always best to wait for trained professionals, Chase’s brother and a friend feared time was running out.
Using a carpet remnant as a makeshift gurney, they dragged the 6-foot-2-inch, 252-pound Chase from inside the house and loaded him into the bed of their pick-up truck. They drove him to the ER, with the friend performing CPR along the way.
Medical crews attempted life-saving measures. But it was too late. Chase died.
Essentially, Chase’s heart stopped. It’s called sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), and it is the abrupt loss of heart function. While often confused with a heart attack, the conditions are actually quite different. SCA is akin to a problem with the heart’s electrical functions, whereas a heart attack is more of a plumbing problem – that is, the blood supply to vital tissues is blocked.
SCA occurs in people who may or may not have been diagnosed with heart disease. Chase and his family had no inkling. He was an active teen, competing in tennis at school and everything from volleyball and basketball with friends at church and ping pong with his brothers at home.
“None of it made any sense to us,” said Michael. “We didn’t know why he died. There were no warning signs. Not that day, not ever.”
An autopsy revealed that Chase had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an often inherited cause of sudden cardiac arrest,. The condition causes the heart muscle cells to become enlarged and thicken the walls of the ventricles, making it harder for them to pump blood effectively, causing arrhythmias disrupting the heart’s electrical system.
Nobody knew any of that the night he died, leading to another layer to this tragedy.
News of Chase’s death spread quickly through the community to less than 7,000 residents. That night, the hospital waiting room and parking lot filled with friends and neighbors.
And law enforcement. The circumstances around Chase’s death prompted officials to treat it as a crime.
Officers tried keeping the family from his body. A hospital chaplain persuaded the sheriff to allow the family to see Chase, but they were allowed to get no closer than five feet.
The investigation originally was expected to take six months. At the urging of local legislators, it was finished in about two months, clearing a cloud of suspicion and providing some answers to the family.
Except for one: how could they have known Chase’s condition in time to have done something about it?
“When your child dies, you wonder about it every day,” Michael said.
In October 2013, the Morris family founded Play for Chase, a non-profit foundation aimed at raising awareness about sudden cardiac arrest. The organization works with the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and the University of Tulsa to raise awareness through community partnerships and public service announcements.
The organization also is working with hospital systems and medical groups across the state to get information to parents and hold low- or no-cost screenings. The inaugural screening is being planned in September in Tulsa.
“I wish someone would have given me a chance to make an informed decision that could have possibly saved my son’s life,” Michael said.
Knowing CPR and knowing how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) are important tools in the fight against sudden cardiac arrest.
That’s why Play for Chase worked with the American Heart Association to get Oklahoma schools to include CPR training as a requirement for graduation from high school. The law passed in May, making Oklahoma the 16th state to do so. This triggered another milestone, as it ensured that more than 1 million students per year eventually will be trained in this lifesaving skill.
“Chase was such a giving young man who would do anything for his friends and community, so we want to honor his life,” Michael said. “If we can save one child’s life, then it will be worth it all.”
Photos courtesy of Morris family
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